“Venice” Novel Excerpt by T.j Larkey

 

venice-FINAL.jpgAnnie isn’t responding to my requests for more marijuana. 

She says she’s busy with her other job. 

Some sort of self-help, shaman-yoga-instructor gig. 

But I have my suspicions.

A few weeks before the ghosting began I’d shown up at her door uninvited and intoxicated. 

Apparently, I was struggling to sit effectively on her bean-bag chair, then I threw up in her bong and demanded she sell me more cocaine.

I don’t remember this visit.

She sent me a message — emotionless, declarative sentences — explaining what had happened, and hinting that maybe I should try out sobriety. 

And then that was that. 

The drug-dealer equivalent to a break-up.

I have to find a new dealer.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

 

I’m out walking the boardwalk. 

I don’t like walking the boardwalk but that’s where I was told I could find weed so I’m out walking the boardwalk. 

It’s noon on a Saturday. 

There are people everywhere. 

Men holding CD players keep coming up to me asking if I want to make a donation to their music.

Which means buy their CDs.

Which means I cannot say no.

Which means I don’t have the strength to ignore them. 

By the time I find a guy that can help me out, I’m carrying three CDs that I paid a total of three dollars for because I didn’t want to talk anymore with the aggressive musicians peddling them.

“You broke under the pressure, huh?” the guy says after telling me he can hook me up.

“Broke hard,” I say.

His name is Fresh.

He has these small face tattoos on his forehead and cheeks and he keeps calling me “bruh bruh”. 

Fresh is also a musician, a rapper, but he doesn’t have any more of his CD’s left.

“They’re selling like crazy bruh bruh,” he tells me.

“Yeah?”

“Hell yeah, straight fire.”

I tell him I’d love to hear his music one day. As long as he doesn’t pressure me into listening to it in front of him. Then I ask how the transaction will work.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “You want that loud? Follow me.”

After walking for a few blocks we get to a dispensary. Fresh goes in without saying a word to me and I just keep moving past the dispensary and into the alleyway next to it. 

Waiting. 

Nothing to do. 

Nothing to distract me.

It’s dangerous.

I start worrying about cops for some reason, like I’m a wanted man, then I try to act like I have something going on in my life other than waiting in alleyways for drugs.

Act normal.

You can do it.

I pull out my phone, start having a conversation with myself. 

Saying things I imagine young men say to other young men on the phone.

“Yeah dude that party was nuts!”

“You banged her?!”

“No dude, Chad won’t be pissed, he’s so fuckin’ solid.”

After a while I start to worry that Fresh isn’t coming back. 

I’d gotten too deep into my character. 

How much time had passed?

Should I take this as a sign?

Should I be more like Chad?

After another fifteen minutes I give up and walk back to the boardwalk. I talk to a few more people but they look at me like I’m speaking a language not of Earth, like I’m an It. 

Makes sense, It says to itself.

Finally, a man who says he’d been watching and laughing at me as I asked around offers to help. He’s got a good look. Shaved head, wearing sweatpants and matching sweatshirt, and big fake diamond earrings.

I trust him.

“I got my card,” he says. “How much you want?”

I tell him I want an eighth and he makes a motion with his hand like, “No problem.”

He says, “But I will need a service fee though, that cool?” 

I nod my head and hand him the money. As he counts it he keeps looking up at me and smiling, either reassuring me he’s not going to leave, or testing me in some way.

“You’re not from here huh?” he says. “You got that look.”

“Arizona,” I say.

“Oh shit, for real? I’m from Downtown Phoenix. But I moved here a few months back. I sure as shit don’t miss it. Fuckin, had to get outta there, ya know?!”

“Fuck Arizona,” I say. “Yeah.”

He tells me to stay put and points to where he is going. It’s not too far but he is adamant that I stay put.

Five minutes go by.

Ten minutes go by.

Fifteen minutes go by.

And then I start to panic.

Without a plan or even a second thought I start walking toward where he pointed. Moving through the crowd. I pass a storefront with a man dressed like a doctor and holding a sign advertising quick and easy weed cards, and then I pass a shirtless man in a speedo, cruising on rollerblades and offering high fives to people. 

It forces a thought like– Venice Beach, baby. 

Today’s mantra. 

A song for my city. 

This is Venice, yeah. This is my new home, yeah yeah. 

I already recognize some of the people. 

The bodybuilders, the dog-walkers, the joggers, the homeless woman that threw a half-eaten yogurt at my feet on my first day here and hey hey hey, the largest gentleman I’ve ever seen in my life. 

You can’t miss him.

I’d noticed him a few days ago, harassing anyone that looked too weak to say “get away,” while talking on the phone at a volume that could be classified as abuse. The kind of guy that you can’t imagine being alone or not speaking, his huge body like a cancer consuming everything around him to survive.

I cut through the crowd trying to avoid him. But we make eye contact and it’s awful. He walks right up to me, no hesitation. I’m one of the weak ones. 

He says, “Hey, young man,” over and over, and I know he’s talking to me but I try to ignore him.

“Young man! You, walking away from me.”

But I can’t ignore him. He steps right in front of me and asks if he can help me. I tell him no. I tell him I just moved here and I’m taking in the sights.

“You sure I can’t help ya?” he says. “Are you abso-fuckin-lutely sure?”

And that one does it. Without thinking, I break. I tell him what’s going on and he starts laughing.

“I knew it!” he says. “I know everything goin’ on in this bitch. So you want my help or what?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe I should wait. Maybe he’s just—”

“Nah nah nah. That’s what I’m saying, you can’t trust people these days. And I ain’t motherfucking people. I can get you anything,” he says, “Eh-nee-thang.”

As soon as the very large gentleman says this, I see the man I’d given my money to. He’s walking directly towards me until he sees the large gentleman talking to me. He stops, changes direction, heading for an alley behind a tattoo parlor and gesturing for me to follow.

So I follow.

And the large gentleman follows too.

“Thanks,” I say, “But I see the guy.”

“Who!?”

“Thanks for your help man. Have a good one.”

“No no no young man,” he says. “Where this man at?!”

I walk down the same alley the man from Phoenix went down. I see him smiling. He looks like an old pal, my fellow Arizonan. I never should’ve doubted him. 

He raises his arm out to do the exchange and we slap hands. Then I tuck the weed in my pocket as I walk away. Finesse.

“Hey, young man!”

I turn around. 

The large gentleman is standing in front of the man that just made the exchange with me. 

My fellow Arizonan looks terrified. 

And the largest gentleman in the world suddenly looks like he’s also the angriest man in the world.

“You know this punk-ass could get jumped for what he just did right!?” He points at the ground aggressively. “This my shit right here! You come to me!”

The man from Phoenix tries to walk away but the large gentleman towers over him, standing in his way. A shoving match ensues. And I can still hear, “You come to me!” as I walk back home.

My new home.

Venice.

 

“Venice” is currently available for pre-order here

a bundle option including Venice and two other titles premiering this Fall is also available for order [we recommend this for obvious reasons: uhhh they’re good books lmfao?? obviously]

“The Event” by T.J Larkey

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My girlfriend gave me a look that made it hard for me to say no.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll go.”

She looked happy.

“Yeah! I promise we’ll have fun. And please wear your suit, it’s going to be kinda fancy.”

It was some kind of charity event that my girlfriend’s Mother had to go to. And her Mother didn’t want to go alone so she invited my girlfriend. Who then invited me. The word “event” made me feel anxious (I was not a person invited to events) but I wanted to make her happy. There was also the promise of a three-course meal, very lavish, very free, so it was settled. We were going to the event.

Walking in, the first thing I saw was a small woman dressed like a gymnast in the middle of the event. She was twirling high in the air, supported only by a big long piece of fabric. She would wrap her legs around the fabric and dangle and twirl. Mesmerizing. I thought, this is what it means to be an event person.

When we sat down at our assigned table, my girlfriend and I couldn’t stop staring at her.

“I don’t want to watch,” my girlfriend said. “I’m so worried she’s going to fall. But I can’t stop watching.”

“We’ll both watch,” I said. “And if she falls, we can be the first responders.”

The other people at the event were paying no attention to the gymnast. Like they were used to this kind of entertainment. It made me suspicious of them. And they were well dressed and looked like people I should not be allowed in a room with, so, naturally, I had my guard up.

“Or, if it makes you feel better,” I said. “Look away and I’ll watch her.”

“Oooh,” she winced. “But I can’t look away. She better be getting paid a lot.”

My girlfriend was always concerned with this kind of thing. She always tips 30% and cares for the well-being of others more than her own.

“You want to tip her don’t you?”

“Well,” she said, staring. “I would if they gave her a break! Her arms must be exhausted!”

I looked down at the table. There was a menu describing the three-course meal that would be served, and another itinerary listing names of short films and directors I’d never heard of. Each film was scheduled to play at the same time each course was served.

“What’s this?” I said.

My girlfriend looked down at the list momentarily, then fixated back on the gymnast.

She said, “There was a film-fest earlier today– Oh honey, take a break!– and those are the finalists– You think I could slip cash into her leotard?– and they’ll show each of these films throughout dinner and then award the winner.”

“Oh,” I said. “I see.”

Through the crowd, I saw my girlfriend’s Mother striding in. Looking like she owned the place. Boss Momma.

“Hello you two,” she said.

“Hello.”

My girlfriend got up and hugged her then sat back down quickly to continue watching over the gymnast.

But Boss Momma remained standing.

“Join us,” I said, not knowing what to say.

“I will. I’m just going to grab a drink before I sit down,” Boss Momma said.

My girlfriend nudged me. She and I had been sober for six months, but I understood. I stood up and walked with her Mom to the bar. Everyone we passed through seemed absorbed in their own world and they didn’t know me or make eye contact so I was feeling alright. My girl’s mother ordered a vodka soda with lime and we waited as the bartender fixed it up nicely. I was usually completely useless at making small talk, but my girlfriend’s mother made it easy. She wasn’t an event person either. She was one of the smartest people I’d ever met. She liked baseball and dirty jokes and she was a single mom that had worked two, sometimes three jobs her whole life. Until she found the job that required her to go to this event.

“You hear Goldy might be traded?” she said.

“It’s a shame,” I said. “Puig might be traded too though. At least we won’t have to see him as much.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Fuck that guy.”

Big Boss Momma. She grabbed her drink from the bartender and took a sip. Everyone at the event knew it, I thought, she was in charge. We started to make our way through the crowd, back to our table, when a couple that was also in line for the bar noticed her. They looked excited and immediately walked over to her to pay tribute, kiss the ring.

“Incoming,” I said.

My girlfriend’s Mom turned to greet them. They were work friends of some kind, I wasn’t sure, and they seemed like they’d been drinking all day. The man wore a skin-tight suit, had that haircut that every other skin-tight-suit-wearing guy had, and the woman had a short sparkly dress and high heels that looked very uncomfortable.

“I’m s’glad you came!” the woman in heels said, hugging Boss Momma, then looking around at the other people at the event. “The festival was soooo boring without you,” she whispered.

They went on talking for a minute before I realized I hadn’t said anything or made any facial expression other than ice-cold indifference. Boss Momma realized it too.

“Sorry,” she said, “This is Ty, my daughter’s boyfriend.”

“Hello.”

“Nice to meet you man,” the guy in the suit said.

We shook hands. Then silence. I was embarrassing Boss Momma. Letting her down. But still, she kept her cool.

“What’s new?” she said to the woman. “Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“Oh!” the woman said, “Have I shown you my baby yet?”

The woman pulled out her phone and started showing off pictures of her “baby”. A shaggy little puppy who had big eyes and long goofy ears. So beautiful. The woman began to explain how she got the little puppy. But she was stumbling over her words and talking really fast.

“Needadahome. So w’gavem a home! S’fuckin’ cute right? Right!?”

My girlfriend’s Mom and I nodded. Picture after picture. Mostly of the puppy just laying around. We used every variation of “cute,” telling her how great it was, adopting instead of buying, until the conversation died of natural causes.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

“We’ll see you in a bit,” Boss Momma said.

There were new additions when we got back to the table. Three woman all staring at their phones, looking bored. They didn’t notice us. And my girlfriend looked relieved when we sat back down.

“Hey,” she kissed my cheek. “Who were you guys talking to over there?”

“I forgot the woman’s name, but her husband is the head of my department,” Boss Momma said.

Undeniably, the Boss. I felt like putting my fist up to my mouth and saying, “Burn.” But my girlfriend nudged me again and pointed toward the gymnast woman. She was standing on the ground for the first time, walking towards the bathroom.

“She’s going to the bathroom,” I said. “But you know you’ll regret not talking to her.”

My girlfriend smiled and quickly followed after her, leaving Momma and I with the three strangers who were now scowling at the menu. They were talking about the vegan options. And how they were worried about the quality of it.

“In my experience,” the one wearing a kimono said, “if a chef doesn’t specialize in vegan food, it’s usually sub-par.”

The first course arrived. I was starving, would’ve eaten anything, but it looked like something I needed to put in me at once. Some kind of deep-fried pork thing. I thought, “get in me.” Then Boss Momma and I dug in while the strangers watched us.

“Well,” one of them said. “I’m glad some of the meat dishes will get eaten at this table.”

Another said, “I was told there was a vegan option for each dish. Guess that’s not happening!”

The third one picked up a plate of the pork-thing and placed it in front of me aggressively. “I just can NOT have that in front of me,” she said, faking a laugh.

I looked at her. Then the plate. Then back to her, not blinking. Then I grabbed the plate and started in on it too. The women watched as I ate from both plates, with both hands, a slightly sexual vibe in the way I was gazing at the food and sliding it in my mouth. The only way to feast, undoubtedly, when at an event such as this.

When my girlfriend returned, both plates in front of me were empty.

“The food good?” she asked.

“Mm Hm.”

The three vegan women looked horrified.

“How did it go with the acrobat woman?” I asked.

My girlfriend smiled and handed me a business card.

“We’re best friends now,” she said. “And she’s getting paid a shit-ton! I’m going to go to her studio and take a few classes next week.”

“Of course,” I said. “When you followed her into the bathroom, that’s exactly how I pictured it going.”

The second course arrived. Another meat stuffed appetizer. And the first film was displayed on large screen at the front and center of the event. The three women, and my girlfriend, all turned their attention to it, as Boss Momma and I continued to eat. From what I heard, the film was about a retired schoolteacher who receives a letter from a former student. Somehow, in the end, it turned out that the schoolteacher was a serial killer. The crowd applauded. And the three women at the table “ooh’ed” and “ah’ed” as the untouched food in front of them went cold. It was the third course they were looking forward to. They had been promised that the vegan option would be served to them right away. My girlfriend, her mother and I were looking forward to the third course as well– the real third course. It was a big plate of noodles with bulgogi slapped brilliantly on top.

Boss Momma said, “We’ll eat the bulgogi, skip the award ceremony, then get out of here.”

Out of nowhere, the puppy-loving drunk woman in heels squatted down next to her.

“Hey guysss!” she said. “Was wonderin’ if ya got a light?” She held up an unlit cigarette. “Idiot husband losdah lighter.”

One of the vegan women dug around in her purse and handed over a lighter and the woman in heels stumbled off toward the door. Then it started. The moment we’d been waiting for.

We saw the waiters and waitresses start to disperse around the event with the third course in hand. As I watched them serve the tables nearest the kitchen, the final film was put on the projector.

“You might like it,” my girlfriend said, turning my head away from the food and toward the screen. “Maybe it’ll be good.”

The film started out with a family sitting near a fireplace. A grandmother, grandfather, their daughter, and their grandchildren. It was then revealed that the grandmother had Alzheimer’s and the grandfather was getting no help from his daughter or other family members. The film then shows the many problems the grandfather goes through taking care of his sick wife. I was hooked. The food was served, the vegan version being placed in front of the three women (who picked at it and complained) and the bulgogi was set down in front of us. But I was busy watching the film. At the end, it got wild. Turned out, the whole time, it was the grandfather with Alzheimer’s. Twist of all twists. The crowd applauded and I started in on the bulgogi, which was also mind-blowing.

And I thought, I like events.

“Did you like it,” my girlfriend said.

“Yes,” I smiled. “You were right.”

After we were finished eating we said goodbye to the vegans and walked toward the exit. Boss Momma breezing past the groups that wanted to smooch her royal hand as my girl and I followed closely behind. When we went out the doors, we saw the drunk woman in heels again.

She was smoking a cigarette and talking with a tall gray-haired man. He looked terrified, stone-faced, as the woman in heels spoke very loudly and demonstratively, waving her hands and swaying slightly. The more she moved, the more her dress crept up.

“I’m so glad we’re not doing that anymore,” my girl said.

“Yeah. She’s going to feel awful tomorrow.”

Before we separated, I hugged Boss Momma and thanked her for inviting me and she nodded and walked towards her car.

“Bye Mom!” my girlfriend said, waving.

“Thanks for coming,” Boss Momma said. “Drive safe you two.”

She drove off into the sunset. Like a Boss. A Queen. Then I turned to my girlfriend and squeezed her ass.

“Really?”

“Sorry,” I said. “I couldn’t help picturing you in one of those gymnast leotards, after you said you’d take a class.”

“It’s okay,” she said, squeezing my ass.

“You will be great big-long-fabric-acrobat woman,” I said. “I have no doubt in my mind.”

“Yeah?”

Yeah. She would. She could do anything. She was next in line for the throne.

 

T.J. Larkey lives in the desert and works as a process server.